Collins, who was in his mid-70s, suffered a catastrophic heart attack.
He sang and played on the Mothers’ first two albums, “Freak Out!” (1966) and “Absolutely Free” (1967).
Known for his odd but strong falsetto, Collins (center in top photo) was an early songwriting partner of Frank Zappa and later a key contributor to the Mothers’ brew of satire, doo-wop and experimental music. He grew tired of the clowning and quit the band to pursue more traditional music. “Too much comedy, too much making fun of stuff,” he told a local newspaper.
In 1968, he performed on Zappa’s doo-wop album “Cruising With Ruben & the Jets.” Collins occasionally would pop up on other Zappa projects over the next decade.
Collins and Zappa met as young musicians in California’s Inland Empire, sharing a love of R&B, blues and doo-wop. Collins, who grew up in Pomona, already had worked on few pop recordings, notably singing high falsetto with Little Julian Herrera and the Tigers on “I Remember Linda,” a regional hit of the late 1950s,
Collins and Zappa wrote and/or recorded several songs in 1963, before the Mothers, including Zappa’s “How’s Yer Bird.” They co-wrote “Memories of El Monte,” a riff on the Penguins’ doo-wop smash “Earth Angel.” They also recorded an odd comedy record as Ned & Nelda (audio below).
A few years later, Collins hired Zappa as a guitarist in an R&B bar band, which evolved into the Mothers.
Collins later sang with Geronimo Black, a group led by former Mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black. He turned down invitations to perform with the current Grandmothers of Invention, reportedly saying he did not want to perform the music of Frank Zappa.
Collins left the music business and apparently was living in his van in Claremont, Calif., when he fell ill. “Money has always evaded me,” he told an interviewer.
Collins was admitted to a Pomona hospital Dec. 18 while suffering a heart attack and died Dec. 22. He had been in a coma since Dec. 18, various sources said.
- Ray Collins profiled in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
- Ray Collins Q&A by United Mutations
- Time to freak out: Zappa albums back